"You can't read any genuine history--as that of Herodotus or the Venerable Bede--without perceiving that our interest depends not on the subject but on the man,--on the manner in which he treats the subject and on the importantce he gives it. A feeble writer and without genius must have what he thinks a great theme, which we are already interested in through the accounts of others, but a genius--a Shakespeare, for instance--would make the history of his parish more interesting than another's history of the world."
A minor but entertaining interest in such works is the author's judgments on his fellows. Some memoirists, not particularly those above, set down in their works judgments that a devil's advocate might find harsh or at least unbecoming. In the Goncourt brothers' journals one finds
5 janvier --Sainte-Beuve a vu une fois le premier Empereur. C'était à Boulogne: il était en train de pisser. N'est-ce pas un peu dans cette posture-là qu'il a vu et jugé depuis tous les grands hommes?
Sainte-Beuve seems to have been notably given to this, to judge by the bits of his conversation the brothers--not ones themselves to waste good words on the undeserving--reproduce.